A Camel and Needle Story, #38

Matthew 19:23-25, CSB

23 Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

Okay, it’s technically not a parable, at least in a classic theological sense, but it is an analogy of what’s true in the somewhat invisible Kingdom of God. It’s explaining something we can understand about the spiritual realm. Hopefully, and I’m not trying to get spooky on you, but it seems to communicate what is real, and solidly true about Jesus’ rule.

What precedes this passage is what we call “The Rich Young Ruler.” It’s a painful part of scripture; we see this young man, devout and upright, crash and burn. He simply can’t extract himself from his riches, and that’s scary. He’s wealthy, and when Jesus reaches out to him and calls him to follow, he cannot. He’s chained to his money, (Matthew 19:22).

How terrible this is, and what a warning to us.

Let’s get to Jesus’ observation about this mostly invisible Kingdom of God. He chooses the largest land animal—a camel (this is not the cigarette type) trying to squeeze the smallest imaginable hole (a needle hole). I don’t know for certain, but Jesus’ audience gets awfully quiet, and it says that his disciples are “astonished.”

“Then who can be saved?”

This question flips everything upside down. The text says that Jesus looked at them (interesting) and declares what is true—“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Okay. But what does this mean?

I believe that when wealth sticks to a man it makes it impossible for him to enter God’s Kingdom. It cannot be done, at least not without the Holy Spirit’s stripping process. Let’s not quibble about this, and let’s not sweep it under the proverbial rug. It is what it is.

It’ll take an act of God (maybe several acts of God?) to sever that golden rope. Wealthy is tricky—it affects the wealthy 1% as well as the penniless street-person. Money is such a snare that only a definite act of God can break it.

The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to do this.

An angel writes to the church in Laodicea and gives them no commendation at all; rather he scares them into repentance. In Revelation 3:17-18 he speaks:

“For you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.” 

The Laodicean church is warned—point-blank to renounce and reject that false god wealth. The angel writes to them (and we have the text) and declares that they must take definite action. They must buy another kind of gold; they must dress in garments suitable for the Kingdom. They are bankrupt. They are stark naked.

Living in the Spirit, and walking in the Kingdom demand definite action on our part. To go back to Jesus’ comments—our camel must get really, really skinny. Wealth must shrink until its needle eye size, and I haven’t really figured out how to do that. I suppose I must take off my camel’s saddle and bridle, and whack him on the behind, and let him loose.

“Nothing is more fallacious than wealth. It is a hostile comrade, a domestic enemy.”

    John Chrysostom

Parable of Talents and Rewards, #37

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey. He called his own servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents,[a] to another two talents, and to another one talent, depending on each one’s ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

22 “The man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

24 “The man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a harsh man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

26 “His master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy servant! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then[b] you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and I would have received my money[c] back with interest when I returned.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Three men, three outcomes. It’s one of Jesus’ longest parables. And it’s a formidable one, and we often scan rather than intently read. “Too many words!” If we do this, we’ll minimize its impact. “Too much repetitive thinking!” But these three men explain the mechanics of lives lived—for good, and for those not-so-good.

Three men, money entrusted. So what’s the outcome, why is this literary redundancy? Could it be that Jesus wants something sharp here—something straight to the point? To me anyway, stress is put on the abilities of these three. No more is given more than they can handle, and no one gets the same.

Three bags of money, three investments. We see exactly how they operate under this responsibility, the first two double what they received. Now the “talents” here are not personality giftings, although they could be. Talents here refer to actual cash, something tangible. The parable here is practical—something that can be quantified.

The first two are commended. The third not so much.

The first two take a risk, and after all, isn’t that what should be done? The first two double what they’ve been given. The third, given the least, chose to bury the money given to him in the ground. He was scared and figured that taking a risk was too dangerous, but we’ll discover that action was the real danger.

So what is Jesus saying here?

Seeing talents as our resources: time, energy, ability, and opportunity, we determine that these are things that each are freely given to all three. Now a talent would have been $6,000 dollars in today’s economy, it would’ve taken 20 years for a laborer to earn that much. If we do the math we’re talking about a lot of money—an insane amount of money!

I think the issue was fear—the text tells us that in verse 25. The third guy wouldn’t take the risk with that which had been given. It’s out of pure panic he decides to stash the money away, and yet we see that he expects commendation. He thinks that what he did was something good—something noble and safe.

The master was really angry.

He states that even doing something like turning the money over to bankers would’ve generated something at the very least. Interest maybe? But apparently, even that was too risky to this third man.

It seems to me, (as I’m on my third cup of coffee—and praying) that following Jesus is risky. We can be afraid, so fearful that we commit to doing what is wrong at the end of it all. The Kingdom of God demands that we take chances, even if it seems like a challenge to us.

We should pray for and then do big things, so big that they necessitate grace to pull it off and make it work. We mustn’t make our discipleship safe—the Father wants us to take chances, and live in a way that’s iffy. Perhaps that is the beating heart of this parable. It seems like God rewards those who are willing to “step out of the boat” and to walk out in a certain amount of “danger?”

I think that this might be the whole point.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28, CSB

Art by Eugène Burnan

The Story of the Ten Virgins, #36

Matthew 25:1-13, CSB

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

“Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

“The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

There were three stages in every ancient Jewish wedding.

  • Engagement–when fathers got together to make sure that it would be a good match.
  • Betrothal—a ceremony in which formal promises were made by the lovers.
  • Marriage—a surprise arrival, usually a year later, by the groom at the home of the woman.

Each was incredibly important. There couldn’t be any short-cuts; one just didn’t jump into this. It wasn’t a Las Vegas approach to just getting hitched. This parable was an extension of the previous verses in Matthew 24:36-51 and had to do with being prepared.

We can extract this from the third step of marriage. The groom would show up at night, and torches were used to light their way, (apparently the flashlight hadn’t been invented yet). Within Jesus’ parable was the idea of suddenness or surprise.

But no one knew exactly when the groom would show up.

Hence there is an emergency feel to this story. The text states in verse 5:

Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”

The story hinges on this sentence. Readiness is the issue here. Everything of any significance must take on the sudden arrival of the groom’s entourage. The virgins, apparently, would go out to meet him—the torches mingling their light, and drive out any darkness. (It seems that 10 was the acceptable number for a proper rabbinical ceremony).

The problem was that only 1/2 of them were ready. It’s interesting to note that everyone was sleeping. Obviously, that didn’t mean anything for it was the availability of “oil” that would make the difference. The idea was a surprise visit.

The oil was the key. And for us, it represents the Holy Spirit.

Sleep is not the whole issue here, but being prepared is. Five girls were foolish, they were simply not ready. They realized their error and tried to finagle oil from the others, but ultimately that would short everyone in their group. There was an idea that a trip to the local oil merchant would work. It was an idea anyway.

But it was already too late!

The door was closed. The five simply missed it. They stood outside knocking and calling, but they didn’t enter in on time. Reading between the lines, I sense they were desperate. Verse 12 is meant to penetrate and reveal the price of tolerating spiritual sloth.

“He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’

The purpose of this parable is the ending line that stresses alertness in a society that dulls everything. The temptation is to act like you’re spiritually aware when you’re not. It’s one of our greatest sins. We assume our lamps are lit when the reality is that our oil (the Holy Spirit) is running close to zero. When our sloth gets mixed with hypocrisy it’ll surely destroy us.

We’re snoring our way to spiritual death.

We must resist slumber and slothfulness. Jesus asserts that his virgins must be prepared and ready for his coming. We must be ready, we must—the price of our unreadiness is high indeed.

“Take care of giving up your first zeal; beware of cooling in the least degree. Ye were hot and earnest once; be hot and earnest still, and let the fire which once burnt within you still animate you. Be ye still men of might and vigor, men who serve their God with diligence and zeal.”

    Charles Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnan

Are You a Sheep, or a Goat? #35

Matthew 25:34-46, Message

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

This passage is murderous. It clearly explains the existence of heaven and hell. It develops the idea of personal accountability—you will be asked to explain the reality of your faith. It penetrates to the very core of you and I. Questions will be asked, and there will not be an attorney present. You will face him alone. (Easy-peasy, right?)

There’ll be only two possibilities (simple huh?) Will you be a “sheep” or a “goat?” Just two.

The issue here is what you’ve done with your life. Did you help others? Was Jesus hiding in the faces of those less fortunate? Did you recognize him there?

We’ll try to understand and we’ll have many questions. Who, when, and where? These aren’t insignificant or trivial issues. They’ll determine your eternal destiny; but after all, does it really have to come down to this?

It does strike me that everything is decided at that crucial moment. Did you really serve others? (As good believers, we emphasize “justification by faith” alone, and rightly so; but does this parable suggest this?) Are we really grasping what Jesus is telling us?

What about serving others?

The Lord Jesus makes things crystal clear, (too clear, in my book,) about service now, and eternity then. This story scares me. If I had a “sanctified” magic wand, I would use it here (“poof, be ye gone!”) but this parable doesn’t want to co-operate, and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to “mesh” on my good theology, but on serious actions.

There is something at that moment that’ll mystify us. We’ll need him to explain things. Sheepiness and goatiness demand need a clear understanding, and believe it or not, we’ll need it. Our Lord balances his decision on ones action to others, and he interjects that whatever is done, is done to him. Period. End stop.

Whether we agree or not. Whether we accept his decision or hate it, it won’t matter a bit. His verdict is final.

He decides whether you are his sheep or just a common goat. Either way, your actions determine everything. He’ll examine all you’ve done, and then you’ll have to live with it. And whether you like it or not—he does call the shots. How we treat others (less fortunate than us,) will determine our eternal destination. This chafes, I know it does. Please dear one, you must be afraid.

After reading, and hopefully acting positively to this story is important—it’s critical. But whatever you decide, you’ve been adequately warned.

Period. End stop.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

    Albert Schweitzer

    

The Authentic Vine, Parable #33

John 15:1-7

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. “

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. “

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Both Jesus and Father God are involved here—we see that right away in verse 1. They both are at work very hard in our own lives, especially me; I’m a work in progress!

He prunes—the work of a good vinedresser. The knife is kept very sharp and the dead stuff is always being chopped off. He wants things to be healthy and flourishing, the vine is constantly assessed to see exactly how it’s doing. Fruit (for us the Holy Spirit) must be seen or else. If it’s not green, off it goes! The vine must bear fruit!

In verse 3 we can grasp the role of the Word in this spiritual “butchering.”

The secret in all of this is something called “abiding.” That idea gets repeated and repeated again so we don’t forget. Abiding is the whole point. The vine—branch—fruit analogy is a remarkable concept which explains the very essence of an authentic Christian life. It explains exactly what is happening.

So what? Have you wondered why the Father hasn’t taken us home already? Why not just escort us straight into his presence when we do get saved, what’s the hold-up here anyway?

This parable tells us that it’s the fruit that matters. We must bear fruit, even in adverse conditions. As a matter of fact, the grapes get good when the weather is hotter—that explains much, doesn’t it?

Verse 6, is crystal. If it abides (stays connected) it stays on. If it doesn’t it’s dead–and hence the knife. Just two possibilities, it’s simple folks, not rocket science. Let’s not mystify it, or look for hidden meanings. When Jesus taught, there weren’t any complications; a little child would be able to understand, and that was his intention.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23

Life automatically comes to the attached. We can “do nothing” on our own. Without the knife—and without abiding, we go nowhere. And simple abiding, staying attached or connected, is the only way the Christian life works. That’s why prayer and praise are such an issue. When you do these, you’ll stay nice and green and grapes (“the fruit of the Spirit”) just happen.

Don’t spiritually strain or grunt—just be. Stay connected through the Christian disciplines (prayer, praise, Bible thinking and reading…etc:) and then there will be no end to the green!

“Prayer comes spontaneously from those who abide in Jesus… Prayer is the natural outgushing of a soul in communion with Jesus.”

CH Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnan

Listening to Our Shepherd: Parable #31

John 10:1-6, Message

1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you, know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice.”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6 “Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about.

For context: 10:7-18

What a joy can be found in the Shepherd’s care, and to hear his voice. Nothing really can match this wonder. We follow as he leads. The voice is an integral part of this passage and the foundation of authentic discipleship. You really can’t walk with him unless you hear him. We belong to him. We’re his flock that he keeps and provides for.

He knows our name! That’s the intimacy found in these verses. We’re never forgotten and he will never overlook us. To think otherwise is slander and an attack on his present-day ministry. Jesus is our good shepherd. He always will be.

“Intimacy with God comes in whispers, not shouts.”

     Woodrow Kroll

He sometimes whispers, and this world can’t hear him. To be perfectly honest, my ‘busy-ness’ silences him. I suppose that the real issue isn’t with him, but with myself.

“And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”

1 Kings 19:12

The gentle whisper to a man afraid. This fits the Father’s m.o. He doesn’t speak through a windstorm, earthquake, or fire. He chooses to speak very quietly, and that’s a problem for me. In the original Hebrew, the word for “whisper” can be translated as calm, silence, or something gentle. He speaks this way if only we shut up for a little while.

If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leading in our lives.

Perhaps Psalm 23 should be brought in at this point?

The flock hears the shepherd, and it’s that voice that breaks through our cluttered-up life. We can hear, and it’s that communication that encourages us to walk through life—one day at a time. Just today. That’s all you must do.

There are so many other voices. You must ignore them.

So many are speaking, so many want us to hear and follow them. But in reality, they want us to leave the Shepherd and his flock behind. But we can’t allow this, we must learn to listen to him alone.

Art by Eugène Burnan

The Parable of the Rich Fool, #30

Luke 12:16-21

16 Then he told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? 18 I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. 19 Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’

21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

All it took was one night. Everything hinges on this. This man seemingly had it all, to the point of expanding things even more. He’s pulling down older and smaller with the intention of going big time. Perhaps on a superficial level, all that he intended to do made incredible sense. He had the means, why not make the next step?

This man saw an opportunity, and he quickly decided that he must be especially favored by God. “Didn’t becoming rich the evidence of the father’s approval?” It seemed that he was stepping up, and stepping into the prosperity of authentic blessing. He thought he truly understood.

This was the common perspective of the day. To be wealthy was the proof that you arrived.

We can see his thinking in verse 19. This was his reasoning, and we must understand the whys in order to understand this particular story. The parable makes perfect sense when we really consider Jesus’ words in verse 15:

“He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

The rich man was considering his retirement. The risk he was taking was somewhat inconsequential when the business end of things looked so good. There was a risk, but it doesn’t seem that it was a real factor.

But the prophetic voice was definitely clear. One voice was Haggai who spoke about measuring godliness with the measure of financial attainment. Perhaps the rich fool didn’t take this into account:

“You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”

Haggai 1:6

Rich towards God, or confusing material prosperity with the spiritual is a deadly trap to fall into. Many of the prophets spoke directly to that temptation, and riches was not to be the gauge which one was to use.

Life is short–death comes way too suddenly. The rich fool didn’t have a handle on what was eternal (and what wasn’t.) This man was to be an example and a not-so-good one. Jesus both encourages and warns us that unless our wealth is funneled into eternity it means nothing. In a thousand years, we’ll realize its truth.

Real wealth is not found in an abundance of possessions. When will we understand this?

Art by Eugène Burnan

The Parable of the “Good Mormon,” #29

Luke 10:29-37, ESV

“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” 

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Do you have any idea how radical this parable was?

A scribe of the Law is testing Jesus. Verse 25 and 28 knit together to reveal the resistance that Jesus was dealing with. Was the scribe speaking on his own, or was he voicing the Jewish leader’s arguments? The word for “test” is the same word found when Satan tempted Jesus. It seems that this was the role of the darkness.

Jesus would have understood; he wasn’t intimidated by the enemy. If anything the parable discloses his understanding of motives and tactics of darkness. Jesus’ story was a masterpiece. He focuses on things that reveal the hearts of the religious leaders, with just a few words he strips bare the evil intentions of darkness. The parable bases itself on the end results of their false position. Jesus is the master and he is fully in control.

A man is beaten on the road by robbers. They mugged him, and even stripped off his clothing, and then left him to die. First, we see a Pharisee who made the decision not to get involved. Jewish tradition had developed a law that stated that even if his shadow fell on a corpse it would’ve rendered him unclean. That’s how messed up things got. Theology, not theopraxy, was completely in charge.

It was the same for the scribe.

Their ceremonial law blocked any real act of mercy. This man was without hope—until a Samaritan found him. Interestingly, Samaritans as a nationality despised by observant Jews. Jesus expertly tools his story to make them out to be the heroes of his parable.

Consider this: The relationship between Jew and Samaritan has a comparison for us in the present day. If we modernize this we can make the comparison to be between Christian and Mormon. The parallels are fascinating to consider. Like Samaritans, Mormons are close counterparts in the religious world. Now, I know Mormon theology is goofy, but let’s consider what’s going on here.

A Mormon shows up, and he really goes the extra mile, and then some.

He does what the Pharisee and the scribe should have done. With this simple story, Jesus shatters the deceptions of the Jewish leadership. When it comes down to it, what really truly matters is how we love our neighbors. It’s something active and it defies labels and descriptions.

Jesus turns to the questioning scribe and delivers a death knell to false ceremonialism. It isn’t what you believe is true, it’s what you do that really matters. It’s funny, but when Mormons act like Samaritans in this story, they’re regarded as holy and true in the sight of God. They’re really doing the Father’s will. This is true, whether we like it or not.

“You go, and do likewise.”

This is the will of God. Doing the work of the Samaritan is what declares our faith to be real and valid. Luther once commented:

God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

Art by Eugène Burnand

The Parable of the Salt Shaker, #28

Matthew 5:13, Amplified

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste (its strength, its quality), how can its saltness be restored? It is not good for anything any longer but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.”

You are different. When Jesus moved in he fundamentally changed you, and you’re a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). The word used there (or at least I’m told) is where we get the English word for “species.” Something quite real has happened (probably the most profound in history) and recasted you into a new type of being.

Jesus chooses his words carefully; I believe he wants us to understand.

He tells us that we’re now “salt” which, when you think about it, carries us right into something that’s completely different than anyone else. “Sodium chloride,” is a white substance that gives food a different taste. But there is more: it preserves, melts and heals.

It should fascinate us that this verse comes right after the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:2-12). These verses are the critical principles of God’s kingdom found there—they must be understood with this in mind. This “salt” idea declares how very different his reign exactly is. As salt we’ve become fundamental to Jesus’ work on planet Earth, he has chosen us to change the world around us.

Everyone who really listened to Jesus as he declared his Beatitudes, would’ve known that these ideas were radically different from what the world sees as success. The “salt” verse is the immediate idea of actively putting these ideas into place. As we consider these, we realize that the world as we know it is now radically different because of us, because of him.

Salt that is not salt is a bit of a surprise.

Thinking about it we determine that “unsalty salt” is essentially sand. Now it might look like the real stuff, and it might be sold as such—but it isn’t salt. It’s a counterfeit, something that’s not the real deal.

Imagine you’re a Jewish person sitting at a wonderful meal of lamb chops. You reach for the salt shaker and expect it to flavor those delectable pieces of meat. But instead of shaking out salt (what you want), you get sand! What a let-down. You feel betrayed, and maybe it causes your whole world to collapse (and maybe not). Anyway, you won’t be tricked again, so the whole batch is used to fill pot-holes in front of your house.

The salt is sand.

The Holy Spirit who lives inside of you is what makes you very distinct. You’re altered on a spiritual/molecular level to be something you weren’t before. The implications are obvious to everyone who “tastes” you. The verse immediately following pounds this truth even deeper still—it’s all about “light” shining into deep darkness, (see “Parable of the Light, #11). Both deal with distinctiveness—both would’ve been really obvious to everyone.

I like the Message Bible on this verse (take it or leave it):

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.” (5:13).

Let’s be salty.

The Parable of the Two Sons, #26

Matthew 21:28-32

  28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go work in the vineyard today.’

29 “He answered, ‘I don’t want to,’ but later he changed his mind and went. 30 Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered, but he didn’t go. 31 Which of the two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.

It isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.

The parable kicks-off the last week of Jesus’ ministry. Consider the following, Jesus has just entered into Jerusalem, and on a single day:

  • He has just rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
  • He has received the praise of the crowd that he’s the Messiah
  • He has cleansed the temple
  • He has healed many sick in the temple courts
  • He’s had a showdown with the leadership of Israel
  • He rebuked a fig-tree for not having figs to eat
  • He had another encounter with the leaders of Jerusalem over his authority,
  • He teaches two parables (this one, and “the Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” vv. 33-46.)
  • He has another go-around with the Jewish leadership

And you thought you had a busy day! Jesus realizes that time is running short for him and on his earthly ministry. This parable, and the one that follows is a clear indictment on the Jewish leadership—the scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The parable must be understood by those in his audience. The leaders listened, and so did the crowds. Everyone got to hear the truth, whether they liked it or not. We must realize that Jesus didn’t intend to antagonize his audience purposefully. He only spoke these two parables to clarify what was true in the kingdom of God. Two sons, two reactions. The story divides the people right down the middle—you either accepted his word, or you ignored it.

It doesn’t matter what you said, it does matter what you did.

Tax-collectors and prostitutes (!) discover that the door to the kingdom opens up for them, but slams shut when the religious people want in. Jesus’ story declares that the Pharisees must go to the back of the line, and wait for others to enter in first. (Now that’s a mind blower.)

Let’s not get it mixed up. Salvation is 100% pure grace, and it has zero per cent human effort. He saves us, not because we’re such wonderful people (at least on Sundays, anyway!), but because of his gracious love. “It is by grace that we’re saved,” (Eph 2:8-9).

We’re the ones who won’t go to work when asked, but afterwards we decide to go. When we listen to Jesus—either from a Pharisee or a sinner viewpoint, will determine our real position in the kingdom.

What we say matters little, but what we do matters a great deal more.

“They talk of repenting, but they do not repent. They speak of believing, but they never believe. They think of submitting to God, but they have not submitted themselves to him yet. They say it is time they broke up the fallow ground, and sought the Lord, but they do not seek him. It all ends in a mere promise.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnand